Talc Powder and Ovarian Cancer

About Talc and Asbestos

Talc and asbestos are minerals mined from geologic formations found throughout the world. Talc deposits have been identified in formations that include, or are located near, asbestos deposits. Because of this phenomena, asbestos-contaminated talc has been identified and documented by geologists for years. In different contexts, the term “asbestiform talc” has been used to identify and describe talc particles that contain asbestos fibers.

There are different grades of talc: “Commercial” or “Industrial” talc contains other minerals; “Cosmetic” talc refers to products that contain more than 98% talc; and “Pharmaceutical” talc refers to products containing more than 99% talc. Talc-containing baby and body powders are considered “Cosmetic” talc and are produced primarily using talc mined and sold by Imerys Corporation, the supplier of talc used in Johnsons Baby Powder® and Shower to Shower® body powders.

According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), “...as late as 1973, some talc products sold in the USA contained detectable levels of chrysotile asbestos, tremolite or anthophyllite (Rohl et al, 1976) and it is possible that they remained on the market in some places in the world for some time after that (Jehan, 1984).”

Recent Disclosure of Internal Company Documents

Over the last several years, nationwide litigation has been underway in which women allege that their peroneal use of talc-containing baby and body powders caused their ovarian cancers. The main defendants in this are Johnson & Johnson, manufacturer of Johnson’s Baby Powder® and Shower to Shower®, and Imerys Corporation, supplier of talc to Johnson & Johnson. Through the formal “discovery” process in this litigation, internal company documents produced by Johnson & Johnson reveal that company concerns over asbestos-contaminated talc date back several decades and that the company waged a fierce campaign to suppress data, test results, scientific papers and other information that talc in its Baby Powder® contained asbestos. According to a Reuters investigation published December 14, 2018:

“A Reuters examination of many of those documents, as well as deposition and trial testimony, shows that from at least 1971 to the early 2000s, the company’s raw talc and finished powders sometimes tested positive for small amounts of asbestos, and that company executives, mine managers, scientists, doctors and lawyers fretted over the problem and how to address it while failing to disclose it to regulators or the public.”

Asbestos & Ovarian Cancer

That Johnson & Johnsons Baby Powder® and Shower to Shower® body powder, as well as other brands of talc-containing powders may have been contaminated with asbestos, has re-focused much of the nationwide litigation. Though most asbestos litigation and claims focus on work, military and industrial-related exposure to asbestos and asbestos-containing products as causing mesothelioma, ever-increasing recent litigation is now focusing on the link between asbestos, talc and ovarian cancer.

IRAC ‘s Monograph 100C (2012) examines the connection between asbestos exposure and ovarian cancer. However, according to IRAC:

“The published literature examining the association between asbestos exposure and cancer of the ovaries is relatively sparse, because the workforce occupationally exposed to asbestos to asbestos in such occupations as mining, milling shipyard work, construction and asbestos insulation work has been predominantly male. An examination between asbestos and ovarian cancer was not undertaken by the IOM (2006).”

Now attempting to address that gap in knowledge, the Working Group (of scientists and doctors) that produced IARC’s Monograph 100C reviewed 11 cohort studies and 1 case control study. The Monograph states as follows:

“The Working Group noted that a causal association between exposure to asbestos and cancer of the ovary was clearly established, based on five strongly positive cohort mortality studies of women with heavy occupational exposure to asbestos (Acheson et al., 1982; Wignall & Fox, 1982; Germani et al., 1999; Berry et al., 2000; Magnani et al., 2008). The conclusion received additional support from studies showing that women and girls with environmental, but not occupational exposure to asbestos (Ferrante et al., 2007; Reid et al., 2008, 2009) had positive, though non-significant, increases in both ovarian cancer incidence and mortality.”

The Monograph continues:

“The conclusion of the Working Group received modest support from the findings of 256 Asbestos non-significant associations between asbestos exposure and ovarian cancer in two case–control studies (Vasama-Neuvonen et al., 1999; Langseth & Kjærheim, 2004). And lastly, the finding is consistent with laboratory studies documenting that asbestos can accumulate in the ovaries of women with household exposure to asbestos (Heller et al., 1996) or with occupational exposure to asbestos (Langseth et al., 2007).”

Focusing on both the factual and scientific links between exposure to asbestos-contaminated talc powders and the development of ovarian cancer, the litigation is evolving and being joined by thousands of women who have been diagnosed with ovarian cancer.

Free Guide on Talc and Ovarian Cancer

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Cramer DW et al. The Association Between Talc Use and Ovarian Cancer: A Retrospective Case-Control Study in Two US States. Epidemiology. 2016 May; 27(3):334-46. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26689397
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Grens K. Can Talc Cause Cancer? The Scientist. March 2, 2016. http://www.the-scientist.com/?articles.view/articleNo/45493/title/Can-Talc-Cause-Cancer-/
Cohen R. Genital talc boosts ovarian cancer risk in study. Reuters. March 3, 2016. http://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-talc-cancer-idUSKCN0W52R1
Berfield S et al. Johnson & Johnson Has a Baby Powder Problem: More than 1,000 women are suing the company for covering up a cancer risk. Bloomberg Businessweek. March 31, 2016. http://www.bloomberg.com/features/2016-baby-powder-cancer-lawsuits/
Bross T et al. J&J Must Pay $72 Million Over Talc Tied to Woman's Cancer. Bloomberg. February 22-23, 2016. http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-02-23/j-j-ordered-to-pay-72-million-over-talc-tied-to-ovarian-cancer
Feeley J et al. J&J's Talcum Powder Goes on Trial in Ovarian Cancer Lawsuits. Bloomberg. February 2, 2016. http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-02-02/j-j-s-talcum-powder-goes-on-trial-in-ovarian-cancer-lawsuits
Mulcahy N. Talc Powder, Ovarian Cancer Link: What is the Evidence? Medscape Medical News/Oncology. February 25, 2016. http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/859485
International Agency for Research on Cancer http://www.who.int/about/iarc/en/
“In Battle Over Johnson’s Baby Powder, Asbestos Opens a New Legal Front” by Roni Caryn Rabin and Tiffany Hsu, New York Times, December 14, 2018. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/14/business/baby-powder-asbestos-johnson-johnson.html

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